Restricting the sale of menthol cigarettes to tobacco specialty shops may reduce retailer density and increase the cost of smoking, according to new research from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.
Researchers used a computer model called Tobacco Town to test the effect of five retail restrictions on the reduction of retailer density, total cost per cigarette pack, and the average distance customers travel to buy cigarettes. The model was based on data from six communities in Minnesota that have enacted or are planning menthol restrictions. During each simulated day in the model, computer-generated “people” smoke and make decisions on when and where to buy cigarettes.
Of those tested, the single policy with the largest impact on density reduction, especially in urban low-income areas, was restricting all cigarette sales to tobacco specialty shops. Restricting all cigarette sales or menthol cigarette sales in that way may also have the largest effect on the total direct and indirect costs of cigarettes.
In almost all of the simulations, low-income and African Americans were the groups least impacted by policy changes, likely because they live in retailer-dense areas. That finding led the authors to suggest combining density restrictions and sales restrictions to reduce disparities.
“Targeting the tobacco retail environment is rapidly emerging as the next frontier in tobacco control,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Todd Combs, research assistant professor at the Brown School. “Policies focused on the places tobacco is sold can reduce tobacco use and tobacco-related health disparities by increasing the direct and indirect costs of tobacco to consumers.”
The study was published August 28 in Tobacco Control.Friday Letter Submission, Publish on September 06